Actias dubernardi — “Chinese moon moth”

Actias dubernardi, the Chinese moon moth, is an extremely beautiful species of moon moth that originates from southern China.  They are highly sexually dimorphic and the males are rather neon-pink and yellow in appearance with long elegant tails, while females are a bit plumper, with a pale white/greenish tinge and two light pink tails.

In China, they live in mountainous cloud forests around 1000m – 3000m altitude; their habitat is cool and humid. Not much is known about their ecology in the wild, but they are believe to have two to three generations a year (flight times vary with location) and a small ‘break’ aka short  diapause where they spend their time as pupae in the cocoons. In the wild, they feed on Pinus massoniana. While it is considered to be one of the more difficult species to breed, in captivity they can be reproduced without much effort; the difficult is mainly getting the environment and conditions right for them. But if you can figure those out, they will be very rewarding and sustainable in captivity. The adults have remarkable tails that are longer than their wingspans;  the tails on the hindwings of Saturniidae are thought to be auditive reflectors that can disturb the echolocation of bats as they make a “twirling” motion in flight; this way they cover a lot of surface area rapidly, making contact with the ultrasound waves emitted by bats, appearing as largers targets than they truly are. It also tricks bats into attacking the tails instead of the body, allowing the moth to escape, at the cost of the tails breaking off.

dubernardi A beautiful couple

  • Difficulty rating: Hard (Difficult to breed, the larvae can sometimes die for no reason even if they conditions are right for them)
  • Rearing difficulty: 7.5/10 (From egg to pupa)
  • Pairing difficulty: 7/10 (Archieving copulations)
  • Host plants: Pinus, Larix, Pseudotsuga. The host plant in China is Pinus massoniana; good replacements are Pinus sylvestris, strobus or nigra. Alternatives not in the genus Pinus (pine tree) are taken with variable results. 
  • Natural range:  China
  • Polyphagous: yes (but only coniferous trees)
  • Generations: Multivoltine (continuously brooded in captivity, possibly bivoltine or univoltine in the wild)
  • Family: Saturniidae (silkmoths)
  • Pupation: Cocoon (silk encasing)
  • Prefered climate: Cold to temperate (high altitude mountain pine forest)
  • Special notes: This species often discourages beginners from the hobby because it seduces them with its incredible beauty, but are then frustrated when the finicky and demanding to keep larvae die. 
  • Estimated wingspan: 80 – 120 mm (small for Actias sp.)
  • Binomial name: Actias dubernardi (Oberthür, 1897)
  • Health warning: No

This species is often the nemensis of many breeders, for they can be demanding. However, if their specific needs are catered to, they become suprisingly easy to keep. Getting the conditions right is where  most people fail.

Originating from the high mountains in China, their habitat is relatively humid and cold. This humidity usually comes in the form of mist due to the high cloudy forests around the mountain tops. Their natural host plant is an Asian pine tree (Pinus massonia) although this species does well on any kind of pine tree (Pinus sp. – recommended is Pinus sylvestris!). Other breeders have also succesfully bred them on other coniferous trees like spruce (Picea) and fir (Abies) and even Larix, though I myself have no experience with this and would recommend using pine for the best result.

Fully grown larva.

Caterpillars are dark green and decorated with white stripes, white dots and wonderful metallic golden patches along the side and tubercules on the back. The trick to rearing them is to keep them reasonably humid and clean and rear them in low density (especially the young instars should not be overcrowded). For detailed instructions see the pictures  of my setups below.

This species takes about 1.5 month from egg to cocoon. Cocoons may go into diapause, although they may be forced to emerge if stored on room temperature.  Emergence may take anywhere between 5 weeks or a couple of months. This species spins a firm cocoon preferably between pine needles.

A typical A. dubernardi cocoon between the pine needles

The Actias dubernardi is one of the most frantic species of moon moths, especially the males. When stressed or otherwise disturbed they may go wild and start flapping their wings hysterically and ram themselves into objects. They may also drop themselves on the floor. This behaviour is the cause  of their short-lived beauty: most specimens will be completely worn out and torn after three days. They will damage themselves in a high rate. It is also very hard to calm them down after being disturbed: when left alone, the moths will still be active for a long time before settling down.

Two fresh males and one older male

Below I will give some rearing tips and tricks. But first a video:    

As for the breeders out there, perhaps it’s useful to show an example of my setup

INSTARS 1-3: 

Keep them in closed plastic boxes (no ventilation). No more than 6-8 larvae per box. Rear them on tree cuttings, not loose needles, instead give them a whole branch. Cover the bottom of the container with paper towel (replace every day). To maintain humidity, spray water on the paper towel (not on the food or the caterpillars! only the towel). Maintain hygiene and do not overcrowd, give them space! Example:

L1 larvae in a small box.

L2 larvae in a bigger, upgraded box.

Keep going until all of them have turned green! Then once again you can give them more space.

L2 to L3 larvae. Note how I never remove them from the surface, instead I remove the surface they are sitting on!

Good luck if you made it so far! These are the basics. As they grow larger, the same concept applies, just upgrade them to a larger box! Fun fact: Actias dubernardi can be reared relatively crowded in later instars. Even moreso than in young instars it seems. Almost as if they become more tolerant. FINAL INSTARS:

A large box of dubernardi larvae

A large box with dubernardi larvae

A good harvest

Larvae feeding on pine cuttings

Finally when you are done.. the caterpillars will assume a brown/reddish colour before spinning!

Actias dubernardi pre-pupal camouflage (before cocooning)

Good luck! Some more pictures/info/FAQ:

  • 1. What is the best temperature for Actias dubernardi?
  •  Room temperature (21 Celcius). Now, some people prefer to rear them hotter, but keep in mind this species is adapted to a cold climate. They are also quite cold resistant. While they do fine on room temperature, raising the temperature higher than this may cause problems.
  • 2. My stock died for no reason, is this due to inbreeding? 
  • Probably not. Inbreeding is a common problem in this species, so it is not an impossibility, but inbreeding usually manifests itself in crippled adults that failed to emerge properly, or die after a few days (low vitality). However, inbreeding is quite easy to blame. I used to blame inbreeding too after failing them many times. That is until I improved my method and got the conditions right: I raised 3 different generations from eggs all from different breeders after this. The stock seems generally healthy enoughto make it – you probably got something wrong! Important is hygiene and humidity.
  •   3. Does Actias dubernardi need to overwinter? 
  • This species is certainly able to go into diapause. However, if kept warm on room temperature, it is also easy to break the diapause and “force” them out. Notable is that most breeders let them diapause throughout the summer, effectively making it an oversummering. In my opinion, the diapause is not required if you plan to raise a single brood. However if you plan on breeding multiple generations and/or in largers numbers, it is wiser to keep them dormant for  a while as to not exhaust the livestock by continuous breeding. I am unaware of their natural flight time and generations. If this were known it would be best to follow their natural habits.

This beauty emerged on my birthday

This is what remains of a male after only five days.  A very fragile and self-destructive species!

Underside of a male

Actias dubernardi is one of the more difficult species of moon moth to raise in captivity; and I would recommend them only to people that have already raised many other species and are up for a new challenge. That being said however – if you work out the right method, you will notice it is possible to have consistent succes with this species, and that they are after all not so hard as many people claim. Their incredible beauty also tempts inexperienced breeders to buy eggs, who will struggle to raise them and fail.

Don’t let these words discourage you however – I myself failed many times with this species too when I was younger, and before I worked out the right method through trial and error. So never give up! But beware of the fact that if you are new to the hobby and A. dubernardi is one of the first you want to raise, you will probably end with dissapointment.

Adult pair of A. dubernardi

DSC00463Peekaboo!! Emergence

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8 thoughts on “Actias dubernardi — “Chinese moon moth””

  1. What a wonderful looking moth! It’s so exotic. Imagine walking through a mountainous pine forest and just seeing one of those yellow/pink males gliding by…

    One question: where do you get the food? Do you buy it somewhere or ‘harvest’ it from the wild? (I can imagine that I wouldn’t want to feed pine needles from trees that grow near a busy road for instance)

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  2. I have several caterpillars of this species. For some reason these have been doing better than Antherina suraka for me. Maybe it’s just the environment here. Can you tell me why the breeding difficulty is 7? Also, do you have any information on overwintering these? Do we just give fourth instars less sunlight or…

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The aim of this website is to provide information about many species of moths and butterflies around the world, with a slight focus on rearing them in captivity.

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